Get out of town for these don’t-miss attractions beyond the city limits.
Haarlem has a rich history, monumental churches, historic hofjes (former alms-houses) and diverse museums. If you take the train, take time to appreciate the only Dutch railway station decorated in the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) style, with characteristic tiled panels, decorative ironwork and a striking wooden signal house. The Amsterdamse Poort, a city gate dating from 1355, is a magnificent monument that has withstood countless battles and wars, while on the historic central square the Sint Bavokerk spire is worth the climb, boasting unparalleled views stretching for miles. Don‘t miss the Frans Hals Museum (Groot Heiligland 62, Haarlem, www.franshalsmuseum.nl), whose current exhibition, Frans Hals, Eye to Eye With Rembrandt, Rubens and Titiaan, gives the Old Master the credit he deserves. The Teylers Museum (the oldest in the Netherlands) houses fossils that are millions of years old, as well as scientific instruments and coins, pictures and paintings. Het Dolhuys museum of mental health, meanwhile, charts the treatment of the mentally ill in the past and present and is a unique testament to Dutch tolerance.
trains from Central Station to Haarlem take around 15 minutes.
With traditional houses, windmills, ware- houses and workshops, the Zaanse Schans open-air museum offers a perfectly-preserved glimpse into what it was like to live in one of Europe’s first industrial regions in the 18th and 19th centuries. As Amsterdam’s ship-building industry flourished, local guilds banned the building of wind-powered saw mills within the city limits. Instead, these windmills were built along the Zaan River, where the wood could easily be shipped back. At one time, there were no fewer than 800 of them in the Zaanse Schans region, which became an industrial centre. Many of the characteristic regional houses are now museums or workshops, which demonstrate traditional crafts.
from Central Station take the train to Koog-Zaandijk (15 minutes). Zaanse Schans is a ten-minute walk from the station.
CZAR PETER HOUSE
In the year the Netherlands celebrates 400 years of trade with Russia, a visit to the place where Peter the Great resided in 1697 while learning about the Dutch ship-building industry is especially timely. Learn the context at the Peter De Groot exhibition at the Hermitage (Amstel 51, www.hermitage.nl), opening 9 March.
from Central Station take the train to Zaandam (direction Uitgeest; journey time 20 minutes). From the station it’s a ten-minute walk.
AALSMEER FLOWER AUCTION
Green-fingered early birds should be sure to visit FloraHolland’s enormous flower auction to witness Holland’s contemporary bulb boom. Each day, 19 million flowers and two million plants are sold in an area so large the workers traverse it by bike. The earlier you arrive (it opens at 7am) the more action you’ll see. Buyers haggle for the best prices, and the blooms – riotously colourful and heavenly scented – are dispatched all over the globe within hours of being sold. The flowers are sold in a ‘Dutch auction’: as the clock ticks down, the price of the flowers gets lower. Come March, visitors can also check out the Keukenhof (Stationsweg 166a, Lisse, www.keukenhof.nl). It‘s Europe‘s largest flower exhibition, and it opens with a tulip show on 21 March.
from Central Station, bus 172 (direction Kudelstaart) takes you directly there in just under an hour
So picture-perfect, it’s like stepping into a 17th-century Dutch landscape painting. Historic Marken, with its characteristic green wooden houses, was an island in the Zuiderzee until 1957, when it was connected to the mainland by a dyke. The isolationist days are still evident, in both the locals’ distinctive dialect and the traditional dress still worn by some inhabitants.
Bus 311 (direction Marken) departs every half-hour from Central Station and takes approximately 45 minutes.
‘What a joy it is to see a Frans Hals, how different it is from the paintings – so many of them – where everything is carefully smoothed out in the same manner.’
– Vincent van Gogh writing to his brother, Theo van Gogh, 13 October 1885
Dedicated to the avant-garde art movement of the ’40s and ’50s, the Cobra Museum boasts works by famed artists including Karel Appel and Corneille, as well as pieces by their Dutch contemporaries.
THE FRANS HALS MUSUEM
Haarlem’s most popular attraction has a collection of Golden-Age Old Master paintings to rival Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.